SENIOR council officials have defended plans to ‘privatise’ some social care services after coming under fire from trade union leaders.
Public sector union UNISON says Cheshire West and Chester Council’s (CWaC) radical overhaul will put vulnerable people at risk and eventually lead to privatisation of specialist adult care services.
CWaC said the charges were needed to help the authority cope with an ageing population and government cuts.
Mark Palethorpe, director of adult social care and health, said the overhaul had won support from service users and staff.
But UNISON regional organiser Pat Barlow said: “The new company proposed by the council is not a ‘public services mutual’ but a crude attempt to disguise the council’s real intention which is to cut pay and prepare these services for eventual privatisation.
“It is ironic the council’s business case claims the new company is well placed to succeed because it would retain the existing highly trained, experienced, and capable staff who are highly valued by existing care users and carers.
“Yet the council persists with a proposal that threatens to dismantle something that works, destroying staff morale and creating widespread anxiety and uncertainty in the process.”
UNISON has also accused the council of misleading people by describing the new company as a public services mutual.
The union said any mutual should be owned and controlled by members and have special arrangements in place to stop it being sold off or disbanded.
Although the new company will initially be 100 per cent council-owned and run, UNISON said there was nothing in place to stop it being sold in the future.
UNISON branch secretary Teresa Connally said: “The council’s staff who work in adult care give total commitment and deliver excellent services.
“If Conservative councillors, who are behind these plans, showed a fraction of that commitment they would call a halt to a move that will put at risk the care of some of the most vulnerable people in West Cheshire.”
UNISON is now calling on the council to suspend the project so concerns of staff, carers and service users can be addressed.
The union has organised a lobby ahead of tomorrow’s full council meeting in Winsford.
However, Mr Palethorpe said many councils – not just those run by Conservatives – were now delivering services in this way.
“We would stress an overwhelming majority of our staff involved are fully supportive and indeed excited about this new direction which will help cement their future and improve services to clients,” he said.
“The new organisation will continue to deliver public services on behalf of the council with employee control playing a significant role – including a presence on a board of directors.
“After three years, we will review the success of the organisation with everyone concerned and review its operation if necessary.”
Mr Palethorpe said there had been extensive consultation with staff, service users, voluntary, community and third sector organisations plus GPs.
He said the current system was far from ideal as service users in receipt of direct payments could not use them to buy care services from the council.
“Sadly Unison’s national policy would appear to ignore both the views of our staff and the reality of the local situation on the ground,” he said.
“It is in everyone’s interests that provider services are given the opportunity to offer services to people who elect to take direct payments. The establishment of a company which can trade is the most appropriate vehicle to enable this.”